Based primarily in Bedfordshire, Wryngwyrm Dark Age Warband represents a microcosm of life in Early medieval Britain. Our aim is to research, interpret and display this important period in history to the general public in an informative and entertaining way. We have a good mixture of warriors, including those in the shield-wall as well as archers and the folk who would have made up daily village life.
We put on these displays across the country from spring to autumn at various events and historic sites, including often participating in larger scale events such as The Battle of Hastings as part of the Vikings Society.
Wryngwyrm is an eclectic mix of people. We have warriors, archers, cooks, farmers, blacksmiths, seamstresses, armourers, weavers, wood turners, storytellers, illuminators, leather workers to name just a few. We have both Pagans and Christians, Norse and Saxons. There are slaves, bondsmen and women as well as free men and women. It’s a representative combination of the people and trades of the Viking age. It wasn’t uncommon for such a variety of peoples to be travelling together across the country in the Viking age!
Once the Vikings began to settle in earnest from around AD 871 onwards, prominent jarls were moved from one territory to another as the politics of the day demanded. It is likely that the jarls themselves remained mobile with their warriors, keeping and enforcing the peace and the rule of their kings and abbots. Their households moved to the new territories also, but at a slower rate and as a group. A jarl’s household was a lot more than just his household servants and slaves. It included his craftsmen, traders and the families of his warriors.
They were all important to ensuring the financial stability of the jarl and the productivity of his new territory. If the jarl couldn’t maintain a stronghold on his new land, then he was likely to find himself kicked out of it. These households on the move needed protection as they travelled through territories controlled by potentially unfriendly native peoples and rival jarls. The jarl would have left a strong contingent of his warriors with the household to ensure its safe arrival at his new hall.
It is the late ninth century, a time of change as the borders of what will be known as the Danelaw ebbs and flows as local power struggles constantly react to the greater politics of the time. The jarl of this warband, Jarl Orm, has been sent by his king from the border town of Bedanford to a new territory in Mercia with the bulk of his warriors. After settling in, he has now sent for the rest of his household and warriors to follow. This caravan of civilians, traders and families protected by the Hesir Arngrim and his warriors is now making its way to the new settlement. However, the going is not easy for this band, burdened down with carts full of goods they must move slowly across the land until they reach their new home. All the time there is the fear of being attacked by Anglo-Saxon warbands or other belligerent Vikings. But also, the warriors are always on the lookout for an opportunity to pounce on someone else to make some easy silver! Whilst in progress they also trade as best they can with the peoples they encounter, trading goods for food and other necessary supplies to sustain them on the move.
All of the founding members shared an interest in and a passion for Anglo-Norse history and an appreciation of the symbolism inherent in rings, rings of power, Dragons and the circle serpent often known as Ouroboros.
Of all the world's monsters the dragon appears to be the most universal, and one of the most complex. Dragons were highly significant to the peoples of North West Europe, and appeared in many Germanic legends. The two most renowned were Nidhogg and Jormungandr. Nidhogg 'Dread biter' gnaws on the root of the world tree (Yggdrasil) which supports the world in which we live. When the tree root is chewed through Ragnorak will come, and Nidhogg will lead the dead to battle. Usually, Nidhogg will survive this battle and will help lead the new order.
Jormungandr, the World serpent, a son of Loki was thrown into the ocean by Odin, where he grew so big that he circled the world and grasped his own tail, which is how he is often represented. He is to be killed by (and to kill) Thor at Ragnorak. Other, lesser dragons symbolized hoarders of wealth as well as wisdom.
For us in Wryngwyrm therefore, the name and symbol represents our values of continuity, an appreciation of our heritage and history, of the rebirth of a society and of the passing on of knowledge.
At our shows you will see us use period tents in the village, as opposed to house structures. This could portray a number of scenarios, for example: camp followers for an army on campaign, or paying taxes - people were summoned to pay taxes, so this was used as a reason to travel and trade goods.
The living history encampment, or the village, is where the public have most contact with the group, as it is difficult to stop a fighting warrior and ask what they are doing. In the village the public have as much time as they want to wander around our displays and have direct contact with us. Although we cannot perfectly recreate the Early Medieval era, the connection to the past is at its best in an authentic village setting.
During events food is prepared and cooked based on archaeological finds. Sadly there were no recipe books! Much of what was eaten in the Early Medieval era would be recognisable in kitchens today in one form or another.
The diet mainly consisted of oats, bread, dried fruit, stews, fish, fowl, vegetables and some meat. Honey was used as the only sweetener and mead and buttermilk were drank daily, along with ale.
Skills such as coin stamping (seen demonstrated in the picture to the right) are a valuable way of bringing the Early Medieval era to life, and provide an opportunity for people to learn about these lost crafts. Plus, children really enjoy having a go swinging a big heavy hammer onto the stamp!
Weapons & Armour:
The most commonly used weapon of the time was the spear. It was relatively easy to train a warrior to use one, cheap to make (basically a long stick with a spike on the end!) and had the added advantage of keeping your opponent at a distance. It was also very effective when used in the mass ranks of a shield wall. Axes were also widely used and came in a variety of shapes and sizes, from the easily available wood tools, to the mighty and fearsome Dane Axe, reputed to have been able to cut a man in half or kill a mounted warrior and his horse in one swipe!
Only high ranking soldiers or the very rich had swords. A sword was specifically designed to kill an opponent and as such had no other function than that of a weapon of war. It was a skilful weapon and needed time to be devoted to training and practice. Good swords needed a skilled craftsman to make them and would have been extremely expensive (perhaps the cost of a high class sports car today) making them out of reach of most people. They became heirlooms, prized possessions and symbols of rank, power and status.
A lesser known but extremely common weapon was the seax, a single edged knife for which the Saxons were named. Seaxes came in a variety of sizes, from small utility knives to almost sword-length weapons of war. A mid-sized seax would have been an extremely common side arm, or backup weapon for many warriors of the time.
Shields in the early Early Medieval era were round in shape and only later developed into the classic 'kite' form used by both Anglo-Saxons and Normans at the battle of Hastings in 1066. They are effective defence tools, being able to be used in single combat or as part of the legendary shield wall. In war, a shield takes a great deal of punishment. Some people favour large strong shields that give good defensive cover but are heavy; others prefer smaller lighter ones for speed and agility. In Wryngwyrm we have all shapes and sizes (people and shields) and encourage new members to try different shields to find the best combination to suit them.
Chain mail was expensive to buy or have made and would only have been worn by the most well equipped and wealthy warriors. It afforded good protection against slashing weapons but at the cost of additional weight.
Combat in the Early Medieval era was bloody and brutish. The aim of Wryngwyrm combat re-enactment is to try to accurately portray this with as much realism and fun as possible, and still be able to get to the pub afterwards, perhaps tired but no worse for wear.
Combat displays usually take place in a roped off arena as part of a public show. They may be in the form of a semi scripted, historically accurate scenario, or as free fighting between individuals or groups. In free fighting the idea is to 'kill' your opponent by landing a well controlled strike to the target area. Of course they will be trying to do the same to you, so this may not be as easy as it first seems.
All the weapons used in displays are period accurate as to weight and size. Re-enactment weapons have blunted edges, for obvious reasons! In addition to this our minimum safety standards require all combatants to wear safety gloves and a helmet. For new members there is spare kit you can borrow to help you get started and advice on buying or making your own kit as you progress.
Initial training is geared to passing a basic combat & battlefield formation safety test, this is to ensure that you are safe to go on the battle field and you have enough knowledge and skill to be able to enjoy yourself fully, as well as to prepare you to fight in the shield-wall in massed battles (sometimes with hundreds of warriors a side!)
You can train further for tests in display and advanced combat to give you a degree of flair in your fighting.
We hold training sessions at least once a month throughout the year. In the summer some sessions are replaced by public shows organised by Wryngwyrm or other groups within the Vikings Society.
The bows we use for battle re-enactment can be no more than 35lb draw. This is for safety reasons, as on the battlefield our targets are live and squishy people. The arrows we use are called ''slow arrows'', they have four oversized flights and expanded blunt heads on the end (for obvious reasons). There is also display archery, this has all the same disciplines as combat archery, but no live targets as we use a variety of sharp arrow heads that have been found in the archaeological records, and we loose at inanimate targets. As with combat, there are safety tests and full training will be given.
During the Early Medieval era, the main long-range infantry in a battle were the archers, loosing up to fifteen arrows in a minute.
Can you imagine being an Anglo-Saxon, facing hundreds of William the Conqueror's archers at the Battle of Hastings, loosing thousands of arrows towards you? It would have been terrifying, as even wounds would quickly turn septic due to the arrowheads commonly being dipped in dung before a battle started!